Serpentine is at best weakly magnetic.
In the article that follows, you’ll learn more about serpentine and it’s magnetic properties.
Is Serpentine Magnetic? (EXPLAINED)
Serpentine, also known as serpentinite, is an umbrella term for about 20 different related gems and mineral substances.
These rocks often contain traces of metallic elements, but not always.
Because of this category’s potential metallic make-up, serpentine minerals and gems can be slightly magnetic under the right conditions.
In this article, we will discuss the properties of serpentine, how to tell if a specimen is magnetic, and whether rockhounds need to figure out if a potential serpentine specimen is magnetic in order to identify this gem.
What Is The Specimen?
The name “serpentine” refers to a large group of minerals that share a similar elemental structure.
This collection of minerals is usually composed of a general hydrous magnesium iron phyllosilicate formula that involves traces of nickel, aluminum, iron, and manganese, as well as silicon.
When a rock consists of multiple forms of serpentine, professional mineralogists categorize the find as serpentinite.
Although serpentine can contain traces of metallic compounds in its makeup, such as nickel and aluminum, the gem itself is not considered a metal.
In plain terms, serpentine is a spotted, green-tinged, or brownish mineral and gem that some rock hounds believe earns its name from its serpent-like color.
Serpentine usually possesses a waxy, slippery finish, but it can look granular or fibrous despite its smooth feel.
In practice, these minerals are usually used as a reliable source of asbestos, magnesium, and decoration in rock enthusiasts’ homes.
Because they contain asbestos, a public health hazard, their use in landscaping is limited by law in certain areas.
Still, they are a sight to behold and so beloved that California claims them as their state rock.
For the best chance of finding this useful and coveted gem, look around California, Arizona, and New Jersey in their mountains and along the coastlines.
When rock hounding in these areas, be sure to bring specimen bags, a small spray bottle, flashlight, small trowel, and water-friendly footwear.
Around the world, this mineral abounds in parts of Italy, Greece, and, notoriously, Quebec, Canada.
So traveling rockhounds on the hunt for serpentine should be sure to check out these destinations.
What Does Magnetic Mean?
When we hear the word “magnetic,” it may conjure images of sticking magnets on the fridge to hang up our masterpieces as children.
The term refers to an object’s visible attraction to a magnet.
If a specimen moves towards a magnetized object, it is magnetic.
We don’t need any fancy equipment beyond a working pair of eyes to determine if something is magnetic, but some objects are more magnetic than others and will therefore exhibit a more pronounced movement towards a magnet.
Specimens that contain large proportions of metals in their chemical makeup tend to be magnetic, though sometimes even a slight trace of metallic elements will create a magnetic property in a sample.
The term “magnetic susceptibility,” used by natural scientists, refers to how much a magnetic field attracts a substance or repels it.
While a certain type of magnetism called “ferromagnetism” can be observed with the naked eye–think a paperclip zooming towards a magnet–some types of magnetism remain hidden to the casual viewer.
One type of less noticeable magnetism is called “paramagnetism.”
This refers to metallic materials dissolving in the substance.
While these dissolved metals make the sample weakly magnetic, they make the specimen a poor magnet from a readily observable perspective.
If atoms in a substance have electrons that lack an appropriate pairing with other electrons, the electrons without pairs align with a magnetic field, which presents as a magnetic attraction.
To test the magnetism of a specimen for ourselves, we can place the gem in a mostly friction-free environment such as a small floating plate on water and use a powerful neodymium magnet.
Most gems won’t respond, but with this method, we can notice even weak responses that suggest magnetism.
To detect paramagnetism, we usually need to employ relatively advanced scientific procedures such as counting the number of electrons to determine if a substance has the odd number of electrons characteristic of paramagnetism.
In plain terms, a paramagnetic object will experience weak attraction to a magnetic field.
However, once the magnetic field is removed, the object will stop exhibiting attraction to magnetized objects.
Why Is The Specimen Magnetic (or Not)?
Serpentine is sometimes weakly magnetic because it frequently contains dissolved traces of metals such as nickel and iron.
Magnetism, however, is not a chief feature of serpentine and related substances.
Therefore, we should not rely on the appearance of magnetic properties or a perceived lack of magnetic properties to identify a serpentine specimen.
It can be interesting to try to get a potential serpentine gem to react to a magnet as an experiment, but it’s not necessary to positively identify this compound.
Does It Matter if Serpentine Is Magnetic?
For even the most amateur rockhounds, we tend to rely on identifying serpentine by its distinct serpent skin-like appearance more than its magnetic properties (or lack thereof).
Known as “false jade,” this stone does not masquerade as any common metal, so it is safe to say that we will not confuse it with bronze, silver, or other metallic elements.
Since serpentine is commonly used for decoration and paving, as well as collecting, we will not need a sample of serpentine to exhibit magnetic qualities to fulfill its typical purpose.
Serpentine is not very rare, so it is easy to locate specimens to compare with a potential serpentine find.
When in doubt, we can always consult a local gem and mineral association or other professional organization devoted to identifying and preserving gems and minerals.
Serpentine, also known as serpentinite, is a broad category of a common greenish, spotted smooth substance that manifests as a gem and mineral with practical and decorative uses.
While serpentine is not hailed for its magnetic properties, certain specimens of serpentine may appear weakly magnetic under the right conditions.
For rock hounds who simply want to accurately label a serpentine specimen, establishing magnetism in the piece is not necessary.
Relying on the coloring, texture, and other visual cues will produce a more accurate identification of serpentine.
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